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Monday, October 4, 2010

Married vs. Unmarried

"An unmarried woman—a girl of your age—isn't independent. There are all sorts of things she can't do. She's hampered at every step" (Ch. 16)--Caspar Goodwood.

Caspar Goodwood is Isabel's American suitor who has traveled to England in order to receive a commitment from her.  Henrietta Stackpole describes him as "the only man I have sever seen whom I think worthy of Isabel" (Ch. 13).  Nevertheless, Isabel doesn't feel as Henrietta does, though both Goodwood and Miss Stackpole both feel she once encouraged him, a point Isabel concedes.  However, according to Isabel, "Caspar Goodwood had never corresponded to her idea of a delightful person" (Ch. 13).  He is repeatedly called "stiff," a description that may correspond to his surname.  As Isabel is one who values her liberty, Goodwood is someone she thinks would greatly hamper her ability to live freely, though he contradicts this belief:

"Who would wish less to curtail your liberty than I? What can give me greater pleasure than to see you perfectly independent—doing whatever you like? It's to make you independent that I want to marry you" (Ch.16).

Here is where the two see marriage differently.  For Isabel, marriage represents a relinquishing of her freedom and her ability to decide what she wants to do.  Particularly in a marriage to Warburton, she would be forced to conform to society's demands.  However, according to the Goodwood quote above, there would be restrictions on Isabel as an unmarried woman, and she admits as much when she asks, "Isn't anything proper here?"  (Ch. 13) when she and Henrietta are not allowed to travel to London without a male chaperone.  Goodwood is also likely considering the fact that Isabel is poor and dependent on others for her pecuniary needs.  Nevertheless, Isabel is not convinced, declaring, "I wish to choose my fate" (Ch. 16).  Isabel isn't sure what she wants to do other than travel, but she feels comfortable that the decision rests with her.

The above painting is Miranda (1878) by Frank Dicksee.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Why Isabel Archer rejects Lord Warburton

Lord Warburton is an English nobleman and friend of Ralph Touchett.  Mr. Touchett ask Warburton not to fall in love with his niece; nevertheless, Warburton is captivated by Isabel.  Though Isabel is not beautiful, Warburton's attraction to her is based on her conforming to his "idea of an interesting woman" (Ch. 2).  She is poor, so she would not be considered a good match according to Victorian standards, but she is American and a free spirit, unlike the women of upper class English society.  Essentially, Warburton is attracted to the fact that she is different.  His sisters, the Misses Molyneux, like Isabel, despite her quirkiness and radical suggestion that Warburton should give away his entire fortune.  Though she is poor, her relation to the wealthy Touchetts qualifies her to interact with Warburton and his family.

Warburton, infatuated with Isabel, asks her to marry him after having known her only a few days.  She rejects him but asks for time to consider the offer, though she does not forsee changing her mind.  Her reason for rejecting him is not entirely clear, as she struggles to verbalize why she cannot marry him.  For one thing, she thinks that marriage would constrain her liberty.  Her rejection of Warburton's offer, nevertheless, should not be viewed as a rejection of Warburton himself, since Isabel reiterates that she likes him a lot.  Isabel's problem, however, is that she sees him as a "personage" with a "collection of attributes" (Ch. 12).  She cannot envision herself as the wife of a personage.

Moreover, she clings to her independence because it is the only role she's known since childhood.  She and her sisters received no regular education, hence her interest in reading and teaching herself.  They also had no permanent home, causing them to move around constantly.  Isabel, even now, wants to continue to travel and explore the world, rejecting the stability of Warburton's residence Lockleigh, whose name may suggest to Isabel a caging inhibition to seeing the world.  Ultimately, Isabel wishes to gain knowledge through experience, not realizing that experience also involves interaction with people.  She avoids close relationships, causing her to remain naive in human interaction.

The above painting is A Young Maiden by John Rogers Herbert (1810-90).


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